Retraining with Wings for Warriors

Norfolk has always been a fertile recruiting ground for the Royal Marines with nearly 400 Association members spread across the three counties of East Anglia. The reasons for this aren’t clear: perhaps its the strong seafaring tradition of the region: Admiral Nelson was born in 1758 in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk and the 44 metre-high mast of the  Naval Training Establishment HMS Ganges was a well known landmark in Shotley for many years until the base was closed in 1976 and of course one of the Army’s biggest training areas is STANTA, north of Thetford. The Bootnecks aren’t above training alongside the ‘pongoes’ from time to time. Someone, after all, has to keep up standards!

And Thetford is where our story begins, where Joe Zipfel, born in 1984 and Marc Goddard, three years  later, both attended the Rosemary Musker High School in Thetford. Three years is a long time at school and the two did not know each other well until 2004, when sixteen year-old Marc decided to join the Corps and Joe, with two years service became Marc’s training mentor.

“It was Joe who taught me that without a high degree of fitness, I wouldn’t get into the Marines, let alone pass out of training with the coveted Green Beret. There were times I felt we must have covered every muddy blade of grass in Norfolk, at the double of course!”

But the hard work paid off and, by coincidence, Marc and Joe, commando-trained and ready for anything, ended up in the specialist Armoured Support Group RM where they became Viking  drivers, providing logistics and transport capability to the various battle groups to which they were attached

Between 2003 and 2008 Joe was deployed once to iraq and three times to Afghanistan but the third time was not lucky for Joe and his vehicle was destroyed in a massive roadside blast, leaving him with multiple complex lower limb fractures, nerve damage to his  legs and a fractured spine.

“Unsurprisingly, I don’t remember much about the incident but the rehab was a long and painful process. Wonderful people and brilliant treatment but they couldn’t repair all the damage and I was medically discharged in December 2012. It wasn’t a great Christmas, to be honest.”

2008 was also the year Marc’s service came to a halt in Afghanistan, where he suffered life-changing leg injuries and 25% burns in a mine blast. Medically discharged, he returned home. Both Joe and Marc tried to make the best of things and with typical determination, set about trying to adjust to civilian life but both young veterans gradually came to the conclusion that there was a hole in their lives, which used to be filled with camaraderie and a sense of purpose.

That was when Marc heard about us and he joined the Wings for Warriors Programme:

“Wings For Warriors’ is a UK registered charity, which gives wounded, injured or sick servicemen and women a future worth fighting for. Instead of a short term project or challenge, we provide our wounded warriors from all over the UK with the skills to achieve an exciting, rewarding and sustainable future for many years to come, as commercial air pilots.

“Having completed my training I want to send my sincere gratitude to all our supporters for helping me re-train for a career in flying, about which I am passionate. The funding so generously provided has not only benefited me in starting a new life after the Royal Marines but also my family, who can now look forward to a secure future, full of hope. I now have a job with the TUI airline company, along with another W4W graduate, Nathan Forster. W4W worked tirelessly with us for two years to bring us to an exciting career, an opportunity I will seize with both hands.”

Joe takes up the story.

“Marc and I lived in the same apartment block in Norwich and we both tried to get on with life in civvy street. Our relationship continued and I was Marc’s best man when he married Kelly and am honoured to be godfather to his children, Henry and Polly.

“It was Marc who first realised that civilian life  wasn’t going to work and he applied successfully to join the W4W training programme. Then I suppose you could say things went full circle and it was Marc who persuaded me  to apply to the charity. The more I thought about it the more i realised this might be the career I needed and in which I could succeed. Last year, I had a series of interviews with W4W but i didn’t really dare hope I would be accepted onto the programme when me and the other three lads were invited to a days testing and interviews with TUI, who have a great relationship with the charity. I have no idea how the TUI people managed to cram so much testing into a day but at the end of the afternoon, we were all told we had passed and were offered contracts of employment with a great airline (provided we passed our exams, of course.) It was then I started to believe I was out of the tunnel and a new life was waiting: it just needs grit, determination and hard work, all second nature to Royal Marines!”

General Manager Wings for Warriors Charlie Marshall said:

“This is a great story about the life changing opportunity offered by W4W. NO one else does this work and we have five years experience and twelve successful graduates. We have managed to raise funds to train 11 pilots so far with the help of support of more than Fifty grant making trusts, City Livery companies, LIBOR and the Armed Forces Covenant . We are tremendously grateful to all our supporters, especially in these difficult times. A vital part of the process is the support of TUI who have offered employment to our Veterans. With TUI as a partner and vital funding from our supporters (it costs nearly £70k to train a Commercial Pilot) we hope to help many more disabled veterans into commercial aviation for many years to come.”

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